Holy Moly…The First Chemo…

The last post on my wife’s cancer diagnosis received an incredible outpouring of love, prayers and well wishes.  Within a few days, the post became one of the most read ever on this site, and was accessed by friends, family, acquaintances and strangers from all over the world.   <You can read that post here> As we think about the scope of its reception, we find ourselves both humbled and blessed.  It is a gift to know that folks are praying for Stacey and our family, and your well wishes mean a great deal to all of us.

In the aftermath of that post, we have received well over two dozen emails from readers of this site asking for an update on my wife and our family’s journey.    I apologize for taking so long to return here and to provide that update.   Hopefully this post will explain both the reasons behind that tardiness and provide an update on the craziness of life in the Masters’ house for those who would appreciate it.

For my sermon message celebrating the Epiphany (the arrival of the Magi), I began with the trailer for the recent movie Gravity starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.  In those three minutes that it takes to introduce us to the plot behind the movie, we begin by watching several astronauts working outside of a space shuttle in an almost routine style.

With inconceivable intensity, everything changes in an instant.

(To watch the clip, click here or on the image below)

gravity trailer

A field of space debris collides with the ship, and throws everything into chaos.  In the trailer, we watch Bullock’s character tumble off into space out of control and in doing so, establish what would be the plot for the next two hours of cinematic excitement well worth the ticket price.   For the Masters’ clan, that image of  out of control tumbling, head over heels, tumbling through space , is – without a doubt – the best image that I can think of for what we experienced during our first cycle of chemotherapy.

Both Stacey and I are obsessive planners, and as such we approached this most recent challenge believing we had planned our way ahead of the game.    Recalling how quickly the chemo leveled Stacey during her first adventure with cancer back in the 1990’s, I took the day of her treatment and the following day off from work.   Those two days, plus Saturday and Sunday, seemed sufficient to get us over the immediate hurdle.

When Thursday arrived, there was certainly apprehension.  We climbed out of bed that morning ready and eager to get this party started after so many weeks of waiting.   Although there was some minor side effects from the steroid treatment that she got prior to the chemo, the treatment went incredibly smooth.   In fact, those seven or eight hours Stacey spent plugged into the IV, were one of the longest periods of virtually uninterrupted conversation we have had since our kids were born.  It sounds odd to say, but it was nice.

The next few days that followed, Stacey did exceptional.    Despite some minor challenges, it was almost akin to business as usual.   She even felt good enough to hit our favorite Mexican place for Vegan enchiladas.   Like I said;  we are planners, and we will plan our way through this.    I should have considered Woody Allen’s famous phrase:  “You want to make God Laugh?   Tell him your plans.”

It wasn’t long before we exhaled.  We might have even let our guard down a bit.   As we did, the tumbling out of control began.

Sunday night arrived and all hell broke loose.   Although we are not likely to know exactly what caused it, by the end of the night Stacey was in agony.    Whether it was the chemicals settling into her muscles, a reaction to the immune booster that she received the day after treatment, or a virus gone hay wire, she spent the next few days in mind-numbing muscle pain, as we worked to get the right cocktail of pain killers into her.   In one moment I am cooking dinner and within minutes we are tumbling…

Yet…  exhale…

By end of day Monday, it seemed that we were getting ahead of things once again.  Having not worked – save at Church – for two weeks, I decided to return to work on Tuesday, eager to get back.  Truthfully, Stacey was just as eager.    We had spent a great deal of quality time together of late.

When I returned home later that evening, it became very clear, very quickly, that things with Stacey were not right.   Her color was nonexistent; she looked to be in pain again, was talking in broken sentences, and had spiked a fever.    Four hours later they admitted her into an isolation room at the hospital.

“With inconceivable intensity, everything changes in an instant…”

Cancer is basically the out of control and abnormal growth of cells in the body.    The treatment is straight forward: make cells stop growing.  Unfortunately, chemo does not discriminate.   It is an equal opportunity cell killer.  It kills the good with the bad.

Stacey’s Chemo killed her white blood cells needed to fight infections and viruses, leaving virtually none in her body.   As a result, a random bacteria or virus found its way in and decided it wanted to stay.   Unable to put up a fight, she just got sicker and sicker.

Tumbling, Tumbling, and more tumbling…

After several days in the hospital, countless IVs and shots to the belly, the doctors were finally able to get the problem under control, and thankfully she was able to return home by week’s end.   Now, as we work towards our next session in ten days, our goal is simple; build strength and immunity.   As I knock on wood with intense conviction, we hope that the casual anecdotes of others hold true which say the first session is the hardest.   As such, we pray that between now and the 23rd, we can get ahead of this too.

I started this post with the mention of the Gravity illustration.  Watching the trailer, Bullock portrays a very real and believable sense of the panic and anxiety that comes with her out of control tumbling.  At one point all else is lost to sound of her panicked breathing.   Yet, something brings her back.

As we watch the video, we hear Bullock panicked cries:  “My GPS is down; I don’t know where I am.”  “I can’t see anything… I’m tumbling!”   Yet, over her panic, we also hear a voice come through the radio in her space suit.   It’s George Clooney, telling her to calm down, to breathe, and finally reminding her that she just needs to focus; focus on anything, focus on the brightest thing in the sky.    Although you may have to watch the movie to learn it for yourself;  for Bullock that focus point becomes a speck of light off in the distance, and once locked in on, she finds that her control returns and the tumbling slows.

Our family certainly was tumbling this week.   One second it was business as usual, and the next we are out of control and frantic. In an instant we lost our ‘GPS’.

I must admit that it is humbling to ask for help, and as such we are often reluctant too.   This is especially the case with yours truly, who is infinitely more comfortable with offering than asking.  As we tumbled this week, the help came without us asking, and we are incredibly grateful.

On the Epiphany, I told my congregation that I believe that the story of the Magi, is more than history.   The story of the Magi is our story.   In spite of the uniqueness with which each one of us packages our faith (or lack thereof) with, in the end, we are all simply trying to find our way home to God.    Despite the different ways we embrace for packing and defining the divinity we experience – we are all share the common quest towards experiencing the promises that come with finding yourself in the presence of the Divine .    Like the Magi, our journeys are long, scary, and costly.   The story of the magi teaches us not only that there is a destination for our journeys, but a light to follow along the way.

This past week, the light in the sky that eased our tumbling and returned our feet to sturdy ground, came from the compassion and love demonstrated in an unasked for hot meal cooked by others.  It came with the email, the card, the flowers, and the phone call.   Our point of focus came through offers to shuttle my girls to and from school.   It came with the parishioner who works as an ER nurse, whose presence made our time in the ER exponentially less scary.

As a pastor, I know all too well how crisis can shake faith.   It can lead you to crippling fear and doubt.   I also know that it is in precisely those moments of great doubt, fear and uncertainty, that faith can be strengthened through the simple gifts of others.  We can call those ‘others’ many things; love, community, family, church, etc. etc.   Amidst the tumbling we have experienced over these past few months our faith remains strong, but we celebrate that priceless gift – a blessing beyond compare – that comes with knowing that there are those ‘others’ who will remind us to focus on the light when things get hard.

Thank you, and God Bless, S.

Below, is a pic taken from Stacey’s room after we learned that she would be coming home soon.  Although you can’t really tell from the picture, the three of us are being goofballs behind the masks… remembering our motto; equal parts humor and reverence…


(note:  the Gravity clip is from Warner Brothers, 2013)

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1 Comment

  1. Carl Black

     /  January 13, 2014

    Your blog is a gift to us. And so it continues. May the incarnate gift which is Christ in you continue to burn brightly through the night.

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